Vivienne Orchestrated for Little Venice Music Festival

Publicity image following the original 2013 staged production of Vivienne

This Autumn, our musical show Vivienne (on the life of TS Eliot’s first wife) is being revived for two performances. Clare will sing Stephen McNeff’s dramatic cycle of songs  in its original version at the Poetry Swindon Festival on 4 October (at 12pm), with pianist Paul Turner.

Then on the following Saturday 6 October (at 7.30pm), Clare will perform Vivienne once again but in a new, orchestrated version for the Little Venice Music Festival in London’s Maida Vale. The evocative musical styles of Stephen McNeff’s witty score cry out for instrumentation. Stephen has created his own orchestration to make the most of the character of the work, which is the first half of an evening concert also featuring Olivier Messiaen’s transcendental Quartet for the End of Time.

Vivienne was first performed at Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival in 2013 to a five star review in the Evening Standard. You can watch the original production of Vivienne as recorded by Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival, here:

Mary comes to London

mary's hand

Clare McCaldin as Queen Mary in rehearsal for Mary’s Hand at Holy Cross Church, Cromer Street

She has been over a year in the making. Now Mary’s Hand, our new operatic monologue for Queen Mary I is about to arrive in London (following its premiere in Chester 5 weeks ago). Mary’s Hand is part of this year’s Tête-à-Tête the Opera Festival. We’re really pleased to have been able to secure Holy Cross Church, 5 mins walk from the British Library in King’s Cross, as our venue for the two performances on 1 & 2 August.

Queen Mary has been ill-served by history  and Mary’s Hand is an opportunity to, if not redress that perspective, then to refresh it, investigating the circumstances of her life and decisions through lyric drama. It’s good to be able to do this in a Roman Catholic church. As a site-specific piece, Mary’s Hand always absorbs the character of its venue, colouring (if not changing) the nature of its performance. For example, when Mary first arrives here on stage at Holy Cross she sits in front of the altar in the sanctuary, the resolutely Catholic Queen Regnant, defender of a faith under assault from the Reformation. The images that we had taken at St. Paul’s Knightsbridge are not only separated from the altar by a screen but also incorporate a chequered dais, perhaps re-positioning Mary in the Tudor court.

Clare McCaldin as Queen Mary. Photo by Robert Workman (at St. Paul’s Knightsbridge)

Yet, these are just the readings of one or two images from a continually moving stage picture, conceived by writer-director Di Sherlock as a response to the available space. We hope that you’ll be able to come and experience Mary first-hand at Holy Cross and – through that classic operatic triumvirate of song, staging and storytelling – make up your own mind about her. There is a video trailer below:

Mary’s Hand premiere in Chester

Mary's Hand

Photo by Robert Workman

Next week we perform Mary’s Hand for the first time. We have already run the piece in an early form for friends, colleagues and supporters. This performance at St. Mary’s Creative Space will be the premiere of the finished version. We’d like to share more about the opera and its creation ahead of this performance. Here is a short video introducing you to the team and their work. You can also read an interview with the composer Martin Bussey, published here today on composer Robert Hugill’s popular blog Planet Hugill. In addition, we’re publishing Di Sherlock’s libretto for the opera on this site – you can download and read it here.

Preparing Mary’s debut

It can seem like a great luxury to have a try-out performance of a show before it even reaches the public domain; but in my experience it is always worth the considerable effort.

Clare McCaldin as Mary I

Photo by Robert Workman

At the end of April we ran Mary’s Hand with a half-finished costume and three generous instrumentalists who learned the piece on the day and were unfazed by the idea of the music’s order changing mid-performance. We were delighted and reassured by a very positive response from our invited audience. We have used that feedback and our own impressions from two intensive rehearsal days to improve and tighten up the piece. Some discoveries can only be made in front of an audience and we were grateful to our friends and colleagues for their input.

Mary’s sumptuous dress is now finished and brilliantly captured by Robert Workman in some wonderful shots of me in rehearsal (left). After the show opens in Chester on 21 June, there will be two performances in London on 1 and 2 August. We are also in discussion with various venues outside London for dates in 2019 and hope to take the show to locations connected with Mary’s story.

More information about the performances is available here.

Mary’s Hand try-out run

Last night we performed Mary’s Hand for an invited audience of friends, colleagues and supporters. The successful performance came at the end of an intense week of rehearsal, with writer Di Sherlock also directing the staging, and Martin Bussey conducting the ensemble (trumpet, oboe/cor anglais and cello) in his own composition. The run was also the crucial first test of Andie Scott & Sophie Meyer’s meticulously re-created dress in the performance situation. Clare was tireless in her work throughout the week and especially on the day, giving a fine, forthright and affecting performance as the maligned Queen Mary. We’re really pleased that our audience enjoyed the show and had engaged with it sufficiently to make all sorts of illuminating comments about it afterwards.

More work is now needed, not only to finish the dress with the money raised during our successful crowdfunding campaign (the goal sum achieved on the morning of the run) but also to review the performance and fine tune its component parts before the public performances from June.

Crowdfunding the Dress for Mary’s Hand

This year, McCaldin Arts will premiere a new work of music theatre. With words by Di Sherlock and music by Martin Bussey, Mary’s Hand gives voice to Queen Mary I, daughter of Henry VIII and sister to Elizabeth I, in a unique and innovative staging for mezzo-soprano and three instruments.

In performance Clare McCaldin, singing Mary, will wear a dazzling recreation of Mary’s state dress (as seen in the famous portrait by Hans Eworth in Burlington House, right). This meticulously researched and hand-sewn costume will be the centrepiece of the staging.

In order to meet the considerable cost of completing this essential costume, which will also be the de facto stage set, we have decided to run a crowdfunding campaign. We last used a crowdfunder in 2013 to meet the production costs of Vivienne, which went on to have a successful run to critical acclaim. This public-pledge model of funding the production costs proved a popular way for people to become invested in the process and feel more involved with the finished show.

You can view the project history and early designs of Mary’s Hand, and support us with a donation towards the costs of completing this remarkable dress by visiting

Bohemia in Soho

Bohemia is alive and kicking, we discover, thanks to Celine’s Salon, which we attended last night at the Mediterranean Cafe on Berwick St. Salon curator and Mistress of Ceremonies Celine Hispiche (far right in photo) has been hosting evenings at a range of venues for the last few years. She presents her own material and generously opens the floor, encouraging anyone who wants to try out new work in front of a supportive crowd. Having started in London, Celine is now looking at taking the model further afield to give a much-needed voice to writers based outside London. At last night’s Soho event we heard poems, songs and an absinthe-soaked extract from a novel, all linked by the theme of Bohemia.

My work tends to involve interpretation rather than my own original writing. I am always impressed when I encounter the desire for self-expression that gives people the courage to stand up and present their own stuff. This is not least because in writing about what moves or frustrates them, they unavoidably show a portion of themselves, whereas I like to hide behind other writers’ genius. I sing some of the finest songs and texts ever written, which is not only a privilege in itself, but I rarely feel that I could have said it any better. However, without last night’s Salon, we wouldn’t have enjoyed the glorious quirkiness of Manifesto of the PLO (Pedestrian’s Liberation Organisation, complete with balaclava and zebra head-band), and other louche delights skewering the agonies of the human condition. Happily, and in spite of of gentrification in the area, certain Soho characteristics remain eternal. Drink continues to be a central, celebrated element of the Bohemian life as we encountered it last night and oils the wheels of some fantastic creativity. I suspect the juices were still flowing long after we retired for the night.

For more information about Celine’s Salon and future dates, see Twitter @hispiche
For Celine’s musical in development about singer and dancer Betty May @BettyMayMusical.


The Future of Knowledge

I’m delighted to have been invited to speak at the Future of Knowledge conference at the British Museum on Monday 12 February 2018. The conference is organised by the Knowledge Quarter to mark its third year of promoting productive partnerships, fruitful networks and creative interaction between its member organisations.

I will talking about McCaldin Arts’ project Mary’s Hand, which is in development for performances in 2018. In dealing with historical issues around the life of Queen Mary I, the show considers how her reputation was posthumously manipulated by her half-sister Elizabeth I, and the partial treatment of important facts and truths. As it turns out, fake news and PR spin are not a recent invention.

Soho Radio – Jessie, Tracey and Betty May

This morning I joined Clare Lynch and Leslie Hardcastle OBE at Soho Radio to talk about my connections with the area. Clare and Leslie co-host The Soho Society Hour on Thursday from 9-10am. Under Leslie’s indefatigable Chairmanship, The Soho Society lobbies for a local community voice in discussions affecting everything from planning consent and heritage to licensing and events. Each week, alongside Leslie’s updates on the current issues in the area, Clare interviews a couple of guests about their work and life in Soho. Appearing with me today in the studio was singer, writer, curator and Soho resident Celine Hispiche and, down the phone, playwright Martin Murphy.

As it turned out we all had a one-woman show to talk about. I was there mainly to talk about Jessie Matthews, born and raised in Soho, whose story I narrate and perform in Over My Shoulder. In addition to curating a salon for new performance work, Celine is also developing a show about a notorious London Bohemien, Betty May. Martin’s latest play, Victim, is a one-woman show about the relationship between a prison guard, Tracey, and an inmate.

We began by discussing Joseph Haydn, whose blue plaque at 18 Great Pulteney Street is visible thanks to the campaign by The Haydn Society of Great Britain, in which I played a small part back in 2015. Although I had frequently visited Soho in the past to enjoy its many restaurants, it was only through this project that I really got involved in the history of the area. Researching my second Soho story in Jessie Matthews has led me to all kinds of discoveries and people, not least the lovely group with whom I spent this morning.

You can hear this morning’s full Soho Society Hour online here

Over My Shoulder is at St Paul’s Church, Knightsbridge on Thursday 15 February

Celine’s Salon is on at the Mediterranean Cafe, 18 Berwick St on Wednesday 21 February

Victim (sold out at the Soho Theatre) plays at the King’s Head Theatre from 31 March – 21 April

Over My Shoulder – the extraordinary lives of two twentieth century stars

Born in a Soho slum, Jessie Matthews rose to become a superstar of stage and screen throughout the 1930s, and was often described as “the English Ginger Rogers”Elisabeth Schumann was a German opera and song specialist whose popularity with British audiences remained undimmed even after Germany and England had fought a war. Both women were hugely famous in their day, and yet their names are hardly recognised now by
younger generations of music-lovers.

Over My Shoulder sets out to remedy this by weaving together the stories of these two singers around their unexpected intersection here in London. In a strange twist of fate, Jessie and Elisabeth now lie buried in the same churchyard. Could they also have met years earlier in Covent Garden at the height of their fame?

Paul Turner (piano) & Clare McCaldin (mezzo)

Clare McCaldin (mezzo-soprano) and Paul Turner (piano) combine story-telling and singing to celebrate the lives and work of Jessie and Elisabeth. Tales of romantic scandal, tragedy, falls from grace and triumphant come-backs are inseparable from the remarkable artistic contribution of these two women.

The performance includes music by Felix Mendelssohn, Richard Strauss, Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, Hugo Wolf, Johannes Brahms, Otto Klemperer, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Noël Coward, Harry Woods and Rodgers & Hart.

15th February 2018, 7.30pm
St Paul’s Church, 32a Wilton Place, London, SW1X 8SH

Tickets £25, £15, £10. Interval drinks will be served (donation requested).
Click here to book in advance or buy a ticket on the door.